Preparing your toddler for a new baby

Welcoming a new arrival into the family is wonderful for any parent, but toddlers can take time to adjust. Our child psychologist explains how to make the transition easier

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You’re expecting another baby and, naturally, you hope your first-born toddler will be excited about the prospect of a new addition to his family.

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Of course, he could genuinely think the news is fabulous, but you should also expect him to be apprehensive and possibly angry. You can hardly blame him for being anxious at the thought of sharing you with someone else.

How he might feel

Your toddler might experience the following thoughts and feelings when he learns that he’s going to have a brother or sister:

  • ‘That’s very exciting. I can’t wait to have someone to play with.’
  • ‘Why does mum want another baby? I’m afraid I’ve done something wrong.’
  • ‘Will she love the new baby more than she loves me?’
  • ‘I like things the way they are. I don’t want to share mum with anyone else.’
  • ‘Maybe the new baby will sleep in my bed and I’ll have nowhere to go.’

Your toddler will react in his own way to the news, and the chances are he’ll be pleased – especially if you give him extra cuddles and attention. Sometimes, though, a toddler reacts badly and starts to behave like a baby himself when he hears that he’s going to have a brother or sister.

For instance, he won’t eat his meal unless you spoon-feed him, or he clings to you every moment he can. Don’t be alarmed by this unexpected regression, in which your child goes back to an earlier stage of development. Give him loads of reassurance and his behaviour will gradually settle down again.

What you can do

Don’t look for problems. Bear in mind that lots of children will actually adjust to a new arrival without any significant problem at all.

Make sure you talk positively about the new sibling right from the start. You could tell him that the new baby loves him already and thinks he’s a terrific older brother. Your toddler will be especially delighted to hear this. You can also have fun involving your toddler in choosing the baby items you’ll need together. The more your older child feels involved in the preparations for his sibling’s arrival, the more he’ll feel connected with her.

Show your toddler the ultrasound pictures of the baby as she grows. This can also help form a strong connection between them.

Finally, let your child have the chance to break the exciting news to your friends and relatives a couple of times.

Try this… 

Take your toddler to buy a gift for the baby, which he can bring along when he meets her for the first time. And have a small present for him from the new arrival. This will make his sibling seem more interesting.

Did your know…

A two-year age gap can create strong feelings of jealousy. It can be easier when the gap is 15 months or less, or four years or more.

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Ways to break the news gently:

  • Tell your toddler in advance that he’s going to have a new sibling – don’t tell him too soon or he’ll get bored with the idea.
  • Timing matters. Introduce the idea of the new baby around the fifth or sixth month, when he’ll notice your bump.
  • Relax. Tell him calmly, and be prepared to answer if he asks where the baby comes from.
  • Pitch the conversation at a suitable level. For instance, you could say, ‘I’ve got a surprise. We’re going to have a new baby soon. I’m so excited.’
  • Let him feel your bump, so he can feel the baby’s activity, too.

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